Wednesday, September 7, 2011
My Garden School
No! I don't own a garden school but do know of one and actually attended a course this summer-online. This post is about that garden design school because anyone who knows me or who reads this blog knows there are two very important things to me-gardening and education. I like to think I do both when I blog and it is the blog that indirectly led me to My Garden School.
Back in June the Managing Director (Elspeth Brisco) of My Garden School sent me an email with an interesting proposition. Would I be interested in reviewing a gardening course and in return I could take any course of my choosing for free (an approximately $200 value at today's current rates). Normally I just go ahead and refuse these propositions because I don't like the obligation to post on a certain subject. But then again I thought-gardening and education together? Hmmmm, sure why not.
Since I was due to go on vacation in late June (which was when the next round of courses was due to begin) I had to wait until the start of the following round of classes in order to register and begin my class. The wait was not long however and my class began on August 4th. It seems the classes start every six weeks or so.
I am not new to online courses but I have never done a garden course online. I did not sign up for just any garden course though, I signed up for Garden and Landscape Design with John Brookes. I must admit that I had never heard of John Brookes before and simply chose the class for its subject matter. I later found out John Brookes is quite a famous garden/landscape designer across the big pond. This surely made sense since My Garden School is based in the United Kingdom.
My class began right on time and upon going through the registration process I found the instructions very simple to understand and follow. The classes go something like this: each Saturday a video and lesson notes will be posted for the students. The students are to watch the video and read the notes (or vice versa) and then complete any homework that was assigned. With online classes you will always have work to do outside of class or you are not getting your money's worth. Each assignment was to be uploaded before the next Saturday; which of course was when the next lesson would be posted. I assume if you don't upload your assignment you will fail the course. I did not have this issue as I was able to complete all assignments in a timely manner. I did have an issue though. The United Kingdom is seven hours ahead of my time zone and I wondered what if any difference that would make. I don't think it mattered because there were a few times I uploaded my assignment Friday evening and I know it was already Saturday by the time I uploaded the assignment. As it was I might be overly worried about these small things but I think the time the assignments is due should be clarified. When I took typical online courses or when I taught courses I would always say the assignment is due by midnight. It should be midnight in the time zone the student is in or it should be laid out very carefully for all students to understand. We had students in this class that crosses all boundaries (one was in the western United States, one in Europe, one in Russia, and even one in Australia).
All lesson notes and videos were of excellent quality. I think Mr. Brookes took his time and carefully coordinated the video and the lesson notes. I did make a mistake the first week in that I read the lesson notes first then looked at the video. Let me just say this, reading English that an English person writes is not quite the same as reading something an American would write. The English language is very varied with words being spelled differently across the pond and even some grammar and mannerisms are different. I had issues with getting it all when I read the lesson notes first but it all became clear when I watched the video. There were no issues understanding English there. Each week thereafter I made a point to watch the video first then read the notes.
Each video is about twenty minutes long and the lesson notes will take five to 10 minutes to read. The assignment is explained in both formats and the expectation was clear; however the interpretation of how to do it was not as clear. I think this may have been on purpose but I'm not sure. Oftentimes students try to figure out right away what exactly a professor desires in an assignment so they can give him or her that exacting assignment. When this happens it defeats the purpose of learning. The goal of learning is not to read the professor and then do as you think he would want. No, the goal of learning is to think within the parameters given to you by the professor. You must allow your own abilities to take over and do the work. Online classes do not allow you to figure out the instructor so you are pretty much on your own. Some of my classmates did ask for clarification but I did not find it necessary as the instructions were clear and the designs-well-they were up to us. Mr. Brookes did not say if they were right or wrong but he gave me (and I assume the other students) good feedback on the designs and work I did do and submit.
Assignments ranged from site evaluation to using a grid system to design a cohesive design to finally designing a garden. I enjoyed all assignments and found they were not overly tough. Anyone could do them but because not everyone has the same experience there would be a wide range of end results Mr. Brookes would have to look at. This was not a problem with him at all and I felt like my designs were evaluated properly.
Interaction among students was not very good. Some of the students took the time to update their profile and some did not. Some of the students talked to others and some didn't or only talked to Mr. Brookes. Usually with online classes you would see the other students' names and that was the case with this online school as well. I could see everyone else who was enrolled in the class as they could see me I am sure. They could not see if I uploaded my assignment or not and I could not see their work. I think if there was an area where all assignments could be posted it might have made for better learning about the different styles and learning. This might not be logical though because in my experience most folks don't want to share their work.
I feel like the class was very worthwhile to me and I learned a few new tricks on designing. The length of the courses was perfect, the assignments applicable, and the course materials perfect. Interaction might need to be stepped up. Also perhaps a grading matrix to let students know exactly how they are doing. Sometimes online classes will have a matrix that allows everyone to see their progress with both grades and percentages of the work completed. This would be in addition to the personal feedback from the professor. Also, a certificate of completion would be a vital part of any course. I don't think the Garden School offers one for students who complete the course. I'm not sure but know I didn't receive one.
There was one technical glitch with the website. The website was attractive and easy to follow and navigate, as was the course portion of the website but when I logged in each time there was a notice that said 'A PHP ERROR HAS BEEN ENCOUNTERED'. It did not affect the course or anything I used on the website so I did not worry about it.
The course I took was well worth taking to be able to have access to a world renown expert in their field. Mr. Brookes is a world renown landscape designer and the fact I did not know who he was is more a reflection on me than on him. There are many other people in the industry who are a part of the school and I think it most cool to be able to have access to them through the courses. Not to mention how good it would look for the person who completes the courses and is able to say on their professional resume "I was trained by Mr. John Brookes or XXXX." Yes, I can be a bit star struck at times but believe me when I tell you that when you are looking for a job every little bit helps-even star power!
Since I rarely post without photos I have included a few in this post about my designs. I've said many times I am more of a plant collector than a designer but I like to think that as time goes on I have refined my garden enough that it may SOMEDAY look like a designed garden. Well here are two pictures of design-one a lucky accident and the other by planned design. I won't ask you to guess which is which!
The opening picture is of serenia angelonia (Great plant Skeeter!) and a coreopsis. Both of these wonderful plants grow in large plant pots out front. They look great together because of a few design principles. One is that the flower forms are different and two is that the two colors being purple and yellow-are opposite on the color wheel. These colors are complementary colors in that they bring out the best of each other.
This last photo is a sad photo indeed. We here in Tennessee are very low on rain and all of the plants are showing signs of stress. I monitor my water and promised myself last year I would not water. I have not kept that promise but I've done quite well at keeping the water bill down simply by monitoring my usage. A couple of plants that never need water are sedums and ornamental grasses. These two plants are coincidentally fall bloomers and shine in the garden when the rest of the garden is droopy, saggy, wilty, and generally sad looking. My borders are all mixed borders so I can at least have something looking good all seasons of the year. This time of the year it is the sedums and ornamental grasses. See how they show up so well and kind of dull everything else? You hardly notice the ratty irises to the left of the sedum or the dull Joe Pye Weed behind the ornamental grass do you? Mixing up borders is a trademark of my design and I can't think of any picture that shows it better than this one with the beautiful ornamental grass.
If interested take a look at one of John Brookes designs on this YouTube video. It is quite an amazing project.
in the garden....
Not sure why the last picture looks so washed out. It didn't when I uploaded it. Sigh.
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden